If you think dealing with technology issues at home or at the office is a big job, imagine doing it for the entire state of California.
Running the state’s Department of Technology – keeping computers and other technology up and running for more than 130 government agencies, as well as providing strategic guidance for California’s IT programs and policy – are two Sacramento State alumni: Amy Tong ’94 (Management Information Systems), MBA ’98, and Chris Cruz ’88 (Business Administration). Tong is the department director as well as the statewide chief information officer; Cruz serves as chief deputy director and deputy state CIO.
Both grew up in Sacramento – Tong immigrated to the United States from China with her family when she was 12 – and came to Sac State in large part because it offered an affordable, quality education close to home. Both also have spent nearly their entire careers working in the public sector and say they enjoy their current roles because of the ability to take a wide view of the state’s technology infrastructure and propose solutions to make it more efficient and effective.
Below, they answer a few questions about their time at Sac State and their current jobs with the Department of Technology.
Why did you decide to attend Sacramento State?
Cruz: It was an easy decision for me because, for one, my parents were helping me pay for college, and I found out that I could actually live at home. I also liked the fact that Sac State has a strong business administration program, and that’s where my degree is, in business administration and management. So I really enjoyed my time there, and the fact that it was easy for me to live at home and go to school.
Tong: I’m actually very, very similar. I was able to live at home, and I worked throughout college to help (pay for) my tuition as well as help my family. Staying close to my family was important, and Sac State has a great reputation. One other thing that attracted me was the difference between the Cal State and the (University of California) systems. My brother actually went to UC Davis, so we have this debate all day long at home that the UCs are more research-oriented and Cal State is more practical. I’m a practical person, so I liked the Cal State system.
When did you become interested in working in the IT field?
Tong: My major (management information systems) was in either its first or second year when I started at Sac State. It’s computer science but inside business administration, and that’s kind of the uniqueness that attracted me. How do you apply computer science into business?
Cruz: I always had an understanding that I would get into the IT field, but I actually started in business and went through understanding policy and business before I transitioned into information technology, which I did at the midpoint of my state career. That served me well in terms of having the business sense to communicate technology to business folks, because it can be quite frustrating if you’re very technical in your approach and you’re not able to break things down into what I call “bricks and mortar” for them.
How has what you learned at Sac State helped you throughout your career?
Cruz: I graduated in 1989, and six months after, I applied for state jobs and was able to get a state position at the Department of Justice. Sac State gave me the foundation to get into an analytical position as opposed to starting in an entry-level position. It prepared me for what I would learn in business, the economics of things, looking at the fiscal perspective of how government works and operates, and being able to have that big-picture thinking.
Tong: After my bachelor’s degree, I came directly to work for the state, but I had the opportunity to work during the daytime and go to night school for my master’s. It really helped me appreciate more of what I learned in college and then immediately apply it to what I needed to do at work. That back-and-forth makes the whole learning experience much more meaningful. That’s one thing I really enjoyed about Sac State. Even through my bachelor’s degree, (for) a lot of the items that were taught in the classroom, my professors always talked about how they would apply to real-world experience.
What’s your favorite part about your job?
Tong: Problem solving. My favorite part is that we have a broad perspective and can realize that Department A has a solution that can be used for Department B. We’re in the unique position to facilitate a lot of this collaboration and look for ways to share resources and streamline efforts for the state as a whole. Having a more enterprise-wide view, a statewide view, a holistic view helps drive efficiency within government.
Cruz: Having the opportunity to come in and work with Amy and all the fine people here to help transform the way government works from a technology perspective. That has been something that I enjoy waking up in the morning and knowing, that we are making a difference as a technology organization, and that we’re making things more efficient and effective for government through strategic change, through a collaborative government. It’s not an army of one. It’s an army of many.
What’s your advice to current Sac State students?
Tong: Get a job while you’re going to school. That work experience is invaluable. I know when we’re hiring, we always look for a good balance of education and practical on-the-job training.
Cruz: Learn that life is a privilege and not an entitlement. When you come into a job, a degree doesn’t guarantee a certain amount of success. What it does is get your foot into the door, but what you do after that, you’ve got to earn and work hard.